All about walking frames or zimmer frames
What are walking or zimmer frames?
Walking frames (frequently also called zimmer frames) are a common sight in hospitals up and down the country.
They’re great at providing support for patients who are slightly unstable on their feet or recovering from certain operations.
There’s a wide selection of walking frames for use around the home too. Taking the best parts from walking or zimmer frames from hospital, walking frames for the home tend to take into account the reduced operational space.
We’ve written this guide to provide you with an overview of the different types of walking frame available, together with the range of accessories for walking frames too. This will help you to determine whether a walking frame is right for your requirements and wish one is the best one to choose.
Why use a walking or zimmer frame at home?
Walking frames are usually used around the home to provide additional support when walking around. The majority of walking frames tend to be constructed from aluminium which helps to keep them lightweight and easy to use. The majority have four feet with solid rubber tips (called ferrules) at the end providing a solid grip and non-slip contact with the floor. There are wheeled versions too which we will cover later in this guide.
What should I consider when purchasing a walking or zimmer frame for use at home?
One of the major considerations is the actual width of the frame. Standard walking frames used in hospitals are around 25 inches (64 cm) wide. This allows the frames to be used by people of all shapes and sizes and the frames can easily fit through the wider doors which tend to feature in most hospitals.
However a frame this wide at home is often impractical, particularly when trying to manoeuvre around furniture and through standard doorways. There’s a full range of narrow frames which enable them to be easily used at home, these tend to be around 22 inches (53cm) wide. There are a few narrow still at around 20 inches (49cm) in width. The majority of frames taper towards the front of the frame by around 2 inches on each side.
The majority of walking frames adjust in height through either a ball bearing or ‘E’ type clip on each of the legs. Height adjustments tend to be in 1 inch increments, usually with 4 or 5 different height settings. Frames are usually available in 3 or 4 different height ranges from around 26 inches (67cm) up to 37 inches (94cm).
Your own size
Another point for consideration is your actual physical size (weight and height) in relation to the frame’s dimensions. The wider frames are the most stable, particularly if you’re particularly tall or heavy. There’s a range of bariatric frames available too.
In order to accommodate all possible heights of users, the frames are generally available in 3 or 4 different height ranges from 26” (67cm) up to 37” (94cm).
We’ve included a few tips below for ensuring that you order the right product for your size below. If you require any further help or information simply call our Customer Service team on 0844 358 1398.
One of the most important considerations is the height of the walking frame. If it’s too low the user will stoop when they walk putting extra strain on the back. If it’s too high the user will put strain on their arms and the full body weight will not be transmitted effectively through to the frame itself.
To ensure that the correct height is ordered simply measure from the floor to the user’s wrist bone when the user is standing up straight with their usual footwear on and with their arms at their side with the elbows slightly bent.
Types of walking frames
Standard walking or zimmer frames
Standard walking frames have four legs, however some people may find walking with a standard walking frame or zimmer frame difficult as the frame needs to be picked up and moved forward with each step taken.
Many people choose to fit inexpensive glide skis to the rear two feet of the walking frame which can greatly increase the smoothness and movement of the walker. They even help to prevent wear and tear on carpets and floors too! Click here for glide skis product details.
Wheeled walking frames
To alleviate this problem there’s a wide range of wheeled walking frames available. The wheeled versions have two wheels fitted on the front instead of the two feet. With a wheeled frame the back of the frame can be lifted whilst pushing the front forward which may help some people achieve a smooth and consistent stepping pattern. For many people it also makes it both easier and faster to walk. However the front wheels to not swivel and so when turning corners the frame may still need to be lifted.
Most standard walking frames can be fitted with feet to the back two legs. The wheels can be purchased separately.
Folding walking frames or zimmer frames
Standard walking frames are fairly bulky and may not fit into the boot of some cars, which may limit the walking frames use.
A range of folding walking frames or zimmer frames has been developed which make them versatile and easily transportable.
Folding walking frames are available with either hinged front legs or as side folding and some are also available with wheels.
The walking frame with hinged front legs has the front section of the frame on a hinge with the back section of the frame.
The side folding walking frame or zimmer frame is slightly different as instead of the frame narrowing towards the front as with standard type frames, these frames are the same width at the front as they are at the back. When folded the side folding walking frame tends to lay flatter than the hinged front leg version and therefore they tend to be the easiest to transport and store.
Forearm walking or zimmer frames
This type of walking frame is basically the same as a standard frame but it has troughs on the top instead of handgrips. These troughs cradle the forearms and the user’s weight is transferred through the forearms rather than the hands to push the frame forward, aiding with walking. This type of frame is particularly useful for those who have painful hands or hands with a weak grip, such as arthritis sufferers.
Reciprocal walking frames
Reciprocal walking frames operate with each side pivoting independently of the other side. This allows the user to lift up and move one side of the frame at a time, rather than all at once. This style of frame helps users to walk with a more natural rhythm as the frame itself replicates a more natural walking pattern.
So as you can see there’s lot of choice! If you’re unsure which one is best for you ask your local Occupational Therapist for advice.
Accessories for walking frames or zimmer frames
There’s a wide range of accessories available helping to make the walking frame more useful around the home. Many of these accessories involve carrying items around with you, however care should be taken not to overload the frame with additional weight or to make the frame itself unbalanced by placing more weight on one side than the other.
This simple mesh or net bag is attached to the frame with clips. It’s useful for holding a wide range of objects such as mobile phones or papers. However it’s unsuitable for tiny items such as pens and glasses as they will simply slip through the net!
This style of bag is attached around the outside top of the walking frame like an apron, hence its name! Most apron bags have 2 or 3 large pockets to keep various items, such as glasses, pens, medication and newspapers close at hand.
The Buckingham caddy
One of our top selling items, the Buckingham caddy is a solid plastic grey holder complete with a tray on top. This tray slots over the main storage compartment and allows the user to safely transport food and drinks safely. The tray holds plates securely and there is even a special cup holder to hold cups and mugs safely too.
This caddy tends to work best on a walker with wheels.
Alternatives to a walking frame or zimmer frame
There are alternatives to walking frames if you need a hand or support when moving around the home or outside. We’ve detailed these below.
Wheeled trolleys can be extremely useful around the home to carry several items and provide confidence and security when walking. These trolleys are designed to be pushed in front of the user and they usually have four swivel castor feet which make them very easy to maneouvre.
Wheeled trolleys usually have one or two shelves for carrying items such as plates, cups, papers, glasses etc around the home. If there are two shelves the lower one is usually set slightly forward which provides extra space for the user’s legs when walking.
The majority of these trolleys do not have brakes; therefore if a lot of support is required do make sure that a trolley with brakes is chosen.
Some wheeled trolleys are height adjustable, so the most comfortable height for the user can be selected.
Wheeled walkers or rollators
When support for walking outside is required a wheeled walker or rollator may be the best option. These come in three or four wheeled versions. See our guide to rollators by clicking here.